tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 26, 2011 1:00am-1:30am EST
tavis: good evening, from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley. first up, a conversation with best-selling author, michael lewis, the influential writer of books like "moneyball." he's out with a new book about the financial crisis in europe and the struggling economy here in the u.s. the latest from michael lewis is called "boomerang." and stockard channing is here headlining a production of "other desert cities" opening on broadway in november. michael lewis and actress stockard channing coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or
boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley, with every question and every answer, nationwide is proud to join mprovero working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one at a time. >> and to contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: michael lewis is a perennial best-selling author whose previous books include ""moneyball," "blind side" and "the big short."
the satellite called boomerang. let me start with the news of days ago, miracle and sarkozy of germany and france respectively have said by the end of the month they're going to put forth a plan on do something vis-a-vis the debt crisis in europe. your thoughts about that? >> i'm a little skeptical because the governments have been trying to put out this fire for a long time and what they do is make these announcements to calm down the financial markets so there aren't runs on countries and runs on banks but they don't have a specific plan and any plan they put together is going to involve essentially german people paying for the debts of people on the periphery of europe and the german people have made it clear they don't want to do that so you have this friction in europe right now that's very interesting. the elected leaders say they want to further integrate europe, to basically, create a united states of europe.
but the people clearly don't want to go there so something's got to give and my guess is what gives is the german government. tavis: wasn't the euro in part supposed to prevent problems and crises like these? >> the europe, the sub text of the euro was we're going to yolk germany to the rest of europe so it can't invade anybody anymore and it's going to be one big, happy family. the problem that was if you have a currency union without a central taxing and spending authority, and if the countries pursue different policies, greece pursued an inflationary policy and were not competitive, it becomes unsustainable. greece accumulates a lot of debt and at some point they can't pay off that debt. in the united states, we don't have this problem because if
mississippi is less productive than indiana, people leave mississippi and go to indiana and work. the federal government can subsidize mississippi. we have a mechanism to deal with this and they don't have that there and when they designed the euro, they thought there would be a crisis but it would be 20 or 30 years from now and we'll sort it out but the fact is they're not as integrated as all that. tavis: you could not have known that but i about jumped out of my seat when, of 50 states, you picked the two states. i'm born in mississippi and raised, grew up in indiana. >> were you more productive when you were in indiana? tavis: that's debatable. of all the states, you picked mississippi and indiana, but i love it. >> i do my research. tavis: ok. let's see how well i did my research. what are we, to your point, what are we to make of what's
happening in greece and how is this situation? >> very bad. part of the story i'm telling is how essentially whole societies were left in the dark room with a giant pile of money over the last decade and they docked what they want with the money but there were consequences and we wanted to have this subprime mortgage fueled housing bubble but the greek government spent the money on more government, whong lots of people weren't doing anything, and they've got a cultural problem that not only do they have an incredibly bloated state and an incredibly inefficient private sector, but they have a culture of not paying taxes. you talk to a tax collector in greece, as i said, and he'll tell you that the quickest way to get fired as a tax collector is to collect taxes, if you get too aggressive with people. they have a society that is malfunctioning and the people don't see any reason to change. i mean, it's a cultural problem.
so the greek people, even though they're the ones who borrowed the money and owe the money, the act of trying to restructure their society so they can repay their debts has riots on the streets. so i think what you're going to have, you've gotten european elites that want to bring european countries together and there are populations pulling europe apart. tavis: is austerity overrated? >> oh, god, yes. it's counterproductive. the i.m.f. together with various euro officials go in and say what you need to do is whack the government, drop 100,000 employees and raise taxes over here in the private sector to cover these debts. the effect of that in the short term, of course, is depressed economic activity. it's the opposite of what greece needs in a funny way. and so they create a permanent recession-depression like environment with very high unemployment, and lower tax
revenues. so the thing that the outside authorities are doing, essentially to appease the german people, so instead of saying to the german people, kick in the money, we'll make these people change but the greek people don't want to change and the medicine they're asked to swallow is killing them. so something has got to give and way the european officials are handling it now is by making bold pronouncements about having a solution without actually having the populations on board. tavis: we, on this program last week, did an entire week about poverty in america. my friend this summer, hopped on a bus, went to 11 states, eight cities, documenting this travel and talking to all kind of people about poverty in this country and what it's doing to everyday people. i raised that to ask you tonight, what these austerity measures will do to the poor
already in greece and in europe, the perennially poor and what will it do in terms of creating new poor in that part of the world. >> it's going to be a growth industry, creating poor people. we're going through this -- ben bernanke, chairman of the mervin king,ve and head of the bank of england, have both said we've just experienced possibly the worst financial crisis in the history of man and after financial crises, there are inevitably these periods of slow no growth, recession, depression-like environments. added to this, we have ideology at the government levels preventing the government from doing the most it can do to alleviate the problem, using expansionary government policies to create demand. we're not doing that sufficiently and as a result unemployment is way up and will
stay way up and when unemployment is way up, poverty goes up so i think what's -- what you see happening is poverty become normalized in some way. you see people who thought of themselves as playing by the rules and doing all the right things all of a sudden poor. and it's a kind of -- this is an irreplication of what happened in the depression but it rhymes with the depression so that will create, in turn, i think, political change. tavis: i don't live in greece, i don't live in germany or france, i live in the u.s.a. what does this have to do with me? >> in the short run, the stock way up and way down every day because the u.s. market is afraid that if greece defaults on its debt which sounds like it has nothing to do with you, but they don't pay back banks money they owe, and those banks then possibly fail
and the banks are mainly french and german banks, and our banks have all kinds of interaction with their banks so our banks start to fail or have runs on them and get attacked in the stock market so all of a sudden what we have is a reprival of the financial crisis of 2008 where the financial system is paralyzed. so, i mean, i think what you're watching is act two of the same financial yises. crisis. act one was all these bad debts accumulated in the system but accumulated in the banks. governments everywhere assumed the debts and now the question is, are governments not credible, and when that happens, it creates a very fragile economic environment. so your ability to do what you to for a living is premised on a certain level of economic activity. the level -- it's going to decline. it's going to get harder and
harder for people to do what they do here, i think. tavis: before you became a writer and best selling author and your books were optioned as movies, you worked on wall street. your thoughts about these protests that are growing, is seems, every day, in this country and around the world. the occupy wall street movement. >> i think it could be a really big deal and i tell you why. the movement hasn't really articulated exactly what it wants, but generally, you can see what it wants and it has justice on its side. essentially, we've gone through this period where people who were paid the most, the elites of the society, behaved in ways that were very destructive to the larger society and the result was the financial crisis. they were bailed out by the government, by taxpayer dollars, they were saved. if nature had taken its course, all these big wall street firms would have been out of business. so the taxpayer does that and in
response, restored to strength and health, the big financial institutions do their best to prevent reform of themselves, inserting their money into the political process. it's outrageous. it's like a system of government protection for elites and everybody else has to live with capitalism. and that just seems so grotesquely unfair and i think the outrage about the unfairness the root of this movement and the thing that creates thentum in the movement is pain it's caused, especially among the young. people my age won't get off the cell phone but people who are 20 lookingd in college and at unemployment are angry and they create the energy for change. i wish them luck. tavis: about 30 second here, but as was the case with those young people in the vietnam protests, they were demonized by many in the larger society, certainly the elite, and now we see this new narrative created where
these protestors are starting to be demonized, they're if they'relists, poor, they have themselves to blame, it's class warfare. what do you make of the narrative that they are somehow out of sort? >> that's inevitable, right, because it is sedition and you can see the occupy wall street andment could create change the people who would be changed don't want so there's going to be -- it's a sign of how virile the movement might be, that people are crafting a narrative to try to defeat it. tavis: scratching the surface on boomerang, bue michael -- by mil lewis. up next, actress stockard channing. tavis: please to welcome
stockard channing to this program. "other desert cities" opens in new york at the booth theater on november 3. here's a scene from "other desert cities." >> how could i trust you, how could i ever be in your presence, my dear, if you violated trust of a family that has so valued discretion and its good name over three decades. you would still be my daughter, but the meaning of that would change. you needed us. we came to the east coast. a year of our lives, i thought of nothing but your wellbeing and your recovery. i could never in quite the same way avail myself. that is who i am. i know who i am. you would lose us.
tavis: ouch. sounds to me like somebody is on the precipice of doing something momma's not happy about. i'll let you explain the play, though. >> i can't explain all of the play because it really is a mystery play because every one -- i'd say the five characters in the play and i would say four out of those five have secrets and they really are not what they seem, including mine. tavis: how would you describe what? how can you describe it so folks are interested in seeing it? >> it's a family living, the father is a retired actor, they're both republicans, friends of the reagans. she is -- my character is a long retired screenwriter, very right winning but in an old style republican way, the reagan republican way.
they have three children, the eldest of whom, in the 1970's, was implicated in a bombing of a recruiting center, who was a wild kid, a young man who subsequently disappeared, killed himself, leaving behind two other siblings. the youngest of whom is now a tv producer, i'd say, probably that character is in his late 20's. and the middle sister, who i'm talking to at that point, is a novelist, very successful, and very screwed up, especially after her older brother's death. both the children are, you would say more left winning and more contemporary than their parents are so it's a family play and the daughter comes to palm springs christmas eve to tell them she's written a memoir which hopefully will exorcise the ghosts of her older brother which brings up all these issues of privacy, if you will, and the most fascinating thing about doing the play is that every member of this audience
literally changes their mind about these characters and who they are and not one of them is exactly who they seem with the possible exception of the daughter who literally has had a nervous breakdown for five years, who is someone who represents telling everything, if you reveal everything, everything will be all right and that and in a small political way, is really the issue of the piece. that was very nicely done without giving it away. >> i have no idea what i'm talking about, right? tavis: i'm glad you were here to do it. you do a lot of broadway. you like plays. >> yeah. tavis: what it was about this particular script that attracted you to this particular character? >> well, to be honest, i got the play, they sent it to me about a year and a half go and i thought, could we just have a reading of this because i didn't think i could do it justice. this character is quite far away from who i am and what i believe
in and it wasn't until we sat down with five actors and read this aloud that i realized there was tremendous power and passion. these are five people who honestly love each other. and the complexity of my own character, i really didn't realize when i read it on thege onlynl when --n e we and especially in front of an audience and i felt what was happening to an audience, i was glad i made the decision. but you know, any time you sign on to something, you don't know what the end result is going to be. tavis: you said you didn't think you could do it justice because it's so far removed from who you really are. i assume you are talking about political ideology. >> i am and that's important. tavis: why do you think that makes it difficult to play as opposed to what many actors tell me, the challenge of doing something that is so far from who they are. >> it was a challenge. i didn't know if i could meet the challenge so it wasn't until
i sat down and opened my mouth and said the first words out loud and played with the other actors and it started to lift that i realized it wasn't just me trying to do something that might be a challenge, it was something that was going to work and it was going to work for an audience because you could feel it in the room, how much power there was. tavis: when you get to this point in your career where you've played a variety of characters over the years, are there things you're specifically looking for that really do challenge you as an actor? things you have wanted to do or not done but are looking for that challenge as you grow into your craft? >> like i said, i don't think it's a question of a challenge as an actor. i want to work with good poem and something that's good or else it's a big waste of time. haven't much time. and if you look at something and you say, well, that would be me to play.for guess what, if the production isn't up to it and the other actors and the direction, it's
just a waste of time. tavis: how are you deciding these days, speaking of waste of time, whether or not your time is spent better on the screen, big screen, little screen, how are you deciding what is not a waste of time at this point in the your career? >> anything that really feels good which this did because we've done once and we know it works and now we're doing on broadway with two different cast members, that's a challenge. but it's a group challenge. i think even if you're on a screen or you're in a play, it's always a group effort. i mean, it's not just the actors. it's the editors and on and on and so you go into something saying that worked so i'm going to continue that, i want to saidnue that, so when they we want to bring it to broadway in the fall, i said, well, yeah, hesitate because it was so solid before. tavis: is there certain pressure you feel, or opposite of that, a
certain joy in the opportunity to take something to broadway? >> sure. i mean, it's always great to the have another chance at something , another shot i always said about this particular production that we were a quintet. we really are a band and a lot about being an harry actor is le being a musician and when it's tight and you really got it -- like being a musician and like an athlete, when you're in the zone. that's alluring. that gives you a couple of hours that are really good for your life. so the chance to open this up to a broader audience is really irresistible. tavis: the "west wing" is still in reruns everywhere. as you look back on those years, you think what about the work on that show? >> you know, my only -- if i had
one frustration in being in "west wing" is that i wasn't on it enough. i was in and out. i was connected to it but every time -- i'll never forget, every time i was on that set, i was so knocked out by everybody around me. and if you're going to be in a on television, it's pretty great to be in one that you respect so enormously and all the people i worked with was so -- the caliber was just, you know, up there. tavis: since you opened this door i'm going to follow you in and if you don't want to go in, you can slam the door. but you mentioned that the different from you politically, ideologgically. i want to ask a broad question, which is, politically, what do you make of the state of things, state of affairs in our country right now? and i deliberately don't want to color it any more than that. that, i think there's
and one hasogress to be patient. that's my particular feeling. i'm sort of, in the state of the country, i'm appalled by the lack of progress in our senate and house of representatives. obstructionism is extraordinary and i hope that the american public understands that, you know, we have three levels of government. we have the executive, but there's legislative and judicial and the legislative needs to be doing their job. but everybody's got their own opinion. all i can do is vote and that's it. that's it. but i think we have to take the broadest picture possible and understand what -- that character of mine and that play, she says to her daughter, there are consequences to our actions, and that is the most -- a friend of mine who is a vast liberal
said that to me in terms of telling their child, you have to tell your child there are consequences to their actions and i thought that was interesting thing, two people from opposite backgrounds, but there are consequences and the slow and steady get through those consequences so if you have to place a vote and you're in a snit, there are consequences to those actions think everybody has to calm down and look at what's going on. it as it lays. if someone feels strongly it was a tea party person or republican, they should vote for who they want to but what really pains me is people who are just miffed because they didn't get what they wanted in a situation that is so complicated, and that kind of thinking disturbs me. because that's not a positive action. a sullen --kind of that kind of attitude, i think, one should be examining oneself.
tavis: we go from the theater to the real world back to the theater. i like how you brought that back the play. nicely done. the producers are happy about that and i ain't got a problem with it. play is called "other desert cities" and opens on broadway november 3. god haveow the program. that's our show for tonight. see you back here next time. good night from los angeles. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit in his critically acclaimed new film "the skin i live in." >> every community has a martin boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where wal-mart stands together with your community to make every day